After taking time to digest everything I wanted to share some experiences from the MAMA spring rally. MAMA is the Midwest Automotive Media Association, a non-profit group that brings automotive journalists and public relations people together. A quick recap: the spring rally was a two day event spanning a Wednesday and Thursday.
Getting right into it, we were first unleashed onto the track at Road America Raceway on Wednesday morning after a quick breakfast and safety seminar. During breakfast the various manufactures in attendance gave quick speeches about what they had brought with them for the rally.
Once we were unleashed we had choices; cars were lined up and each car had a sticker on the windshield stating either “road” or “track”. If a car had a track sticker we were allowed to take it on either the public roads or the track. Cars with road stickers were not permitted on the track.
Some things to note about the day: we were asked to keep stability control on at all times in the cars. They were trying to avoid people over-reaching their abilities and wanted to minimize any damage or injury that might occur and while this most likely hindered some people’s lap times and severely hindered some autocross times, it was fine because part no major incidents occurred.
I focused much of my attention on the track in the early morning. I drove everything from the Mazda RX8, Audi S4 and Mercedes Benz C63 to the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T R-Spec. I instantly found the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0t R-Spec underwhelming. I was not in love with the manual, it felt slightly mushy and the shifts were not clean and crisp. The engine needed to stay high in the revs to keep going around the course. When I asked the Hyundai rep about this he admitted that this was too much track for the car and went on to state that the car is better in shorter track scenarios. I can easily believe that.
The new 2010 Audi S4 was just tackled the track. I set all the settings to dynamic mode and took off. I loved the six speed manual transmission in that car. Through the corners, the car felt much more neutral then the last generation with the heavy V8, though I will admit I do miss the V8 exhaust from the previous generation S4. The car pulled itself through the corners pushing power to different wheels with the sport differential in the rear.
I did not take the time to properly set up the Mercedes Benz C63 or the E63 before hitting the track and this hindered some of the fun. I did not tinker with all the settings, thus the car was not to my liking. The paddles did not seem to do what I wanted them to do, the steering was not how I predicted through the corners, and the E63 was just simply hard to place in the corners. You really need to play with the settings to get these cars to your liking and I did not take the time.
For the road portion I took out the upcoming Suzuki Kizashi Sport with the CVT transmission. The paddles responded nicely and overall, the car was very nice. The slightly more aggressive exterior body kit is welcomed and the larger wheels and tires looked great. This was no barn burner but it went well enough.
The Rolls Royce Ghost was another trip all together, hitting near illegal speeds in no time. The interior of the new Rolls Royce Ghost is just plush. Everything is made of quality materials. I determined if I can ever afford a house with carpet as nice as the floor mats in the Ghost, I have made it. The umbrellas in the doors have ventilation ducts that dry them, giving the ability to put away the umbrellas wet (coming in quite handy when Jeeves picks you up at the gallery opening). Speaking of Jeeves, this car is much smaller then the Phantom (though still quite large) and many owners may prefer drive it themselves instead of having a chauffeur. Sorry Jeeves, you’ll be taking the other car.
You know what they say, it’s not a party until a tree falls on an Aston Martin Rapide. If nothing else, many people will remember this from the 2010 MAMA spring rally. Upon getting back to our hotels (tired and stinky from being in the sun all day) it started to downpour and I mean a torrential downpour. Within minutes of the rain hitting, hail rolled through. The chunks of hail were about the size of a pea. Of course, my thoughts quickly rolled to the millions of dollars worth of cars sitting outside of the hotel and the track. Once the storm passed, I walked to dinner. As I was walking everyone was heading to the parking lot. I asked why and they only could utter something about a tree and the Aston Martin. Uh oh, that is not good. To my (and everyone else’s) horror, a pine tree had fallen on the Aston Martin Rapide. We lifted the tree off as they backed the car out from under it. Upon closer inspection, the passenger side mirror was gone, the hood was dented, the windshield broken and the worst part was that wood had gone through the windshield and into the dashboard, more then likely ruining the dashboard. Not good.
Thursday morning we had an autocross course set up next to the track. The Ford Fiesta was a ton of fun due to its handling. The new 2011 Ford Mustang V6 was much better then I anticipated. The Mercedes Benz C63 was a beast though the E63 was a boat through the course, mainly due to it’s size. Its power was what pushed it through.
The rest of the morning was spent off roading in everything from Range Rovers to the Ford F150 Raptor 6.2. The Raptor 6.2 was my first vehicle I took off road and its size made it a handful. The course was somewhat tight in some areas and I had to back up to make some corners. The truck handled everything like the beast that it is. After going through the course in the Raptor, I decided to go for something a bit smaller. The new 2010 Range Rover Sport was next up and this thing was ridiculously nice. Something crazy to note is that the Range Rover Sport was also labeled Wednesday as a track car. This vehicle was put through its paces both on the track and off road. Not many vehicles can be pushed through the track one morning and then stuck onto an off road trail the next. I was curious as to how the stock 20 inch wheels and tires would handle the off road portion seeing as they had been used on the track the morning before. To my surprise, the Range Rover Sport (I should not have been surprised) was an off road machine, shrugging off everything I threw at it. Driving the Range Rover next was a very cool experience. The all digital gauge cluster is really useful. Being able to change what is displayed based on what you are doing comes in handy when off road.
The entire experience gave me the opportunity to drive many different cars in varying situations throughout a two day period. The track portion was a blast, as was everything else. The people were friendly and inviting. Sitting and having lunch with two gentlemen from Consumer Reports lead to quite an interesting conversation. Everyone from freelancers to Cars.com writers were in attendance. Overall it was a great first experience and I look forward to whatever the next MAMA rallies should bring.